Fredrik Backman is the wildly successful author of “Beartown,” “A Man Called Ove,” “Britt-Marie Was Here,” and other novels from Sweden, but one would barely know that from his perfect grasp of the English language.
He met with a group of fans at the Old Orchard Barnes & Noble in Skokie, Illinois. Some fans braved terrible storms to travel hours to hear him speak and get their books signed. Backman did not disappoint.
His serious demeanor is belied by his obvious charm and self-deprecation. “I am weird,” he said when explaining that he writes about difficult people and tries to defend them, because he is one himself. He explained how the character of Ove was created. ‘Whenever I meet someone obnoxious, I think, “There must be someone who loves you.”‘ He shared that many of Ove’s characteristics come from him, and he charmingly admitted that,
“I call the internet provider a lot and I’ll end up shouting — you do this every day of your life and I expect the best. Why don’t you want to be good at your job?”
He explained that settings are a very important part of his stories. They have taken place in a neighborhood, an apartment building, a parking lot, and a small town. “I like a closed universe,” he said. “You are forced to live with people who are very different from you. In New York, you can just be with people like you. People who look like you, dress like you, have as much money as you, the same religion.” He compared that with a small community where there is no choice because everyone is just there. “I’m interested in conflict,” he explained. “What happens when people bump heads.”
Backman has written about sports because he says that sports is an arena where conflict is used as a strategy. “A lot of very prominent coaches use that tactic to bring their team together. They find an outside enemy.” They might say to the players, “No one believes in us; everyone is against us; everyone is out to stop us.” Backman thinks that works because it’s easier to hate than to love. “Love is hard. Hate is easy. I mean hate just takes a second. Love takes a lot of work.”
He also views sports as dramatic. With perfect comedic timing, Backman tells his audience that sports put everything on edge. They’re very dramatic. ‘There’s no other place in life where things are so dramatic. That’s why we love sports. Very few people stand up at their jobs and (picture fist pumping) grunt “yah!” There aren’t many points in daily life where you do the dishes and “yah!” and you stand up screaming. That doesn’t happen.
A bit of Backman humor in this video clip:
Backman admits that he’s not good at describing people. He says he doesn’t describe how they look. “I never describe how Ove looks. I describe three pieces of clothing, but you know what he looks like.” He says that by describing mannerisms instead of physical characteristics, he gives the reader a sense of what the person is like. For example, he gives Britt-Marie (in her story) the habit of brushing crumbs — invisible or not — from a table into her palm and then throwing them away. He explains that his mother does that, and that sharing those mannerisms, those “little secrets,” with the reader makes the characters come alive. He says that he does the same thing with descriptions of the setting in “Beartown.” “I describe how it feels, the history, how people interact,” he says, rather than describing how many buildings or blocks are in the town.
“Beartown” is a book about love. In it are very different loves — the love of a friend for his or her best friend, the love of a mother or father for his or her child, the love of a teammate for a fellow teammate. And Backman made clear that the book is filled with love stories. “Amat and Bobo (two teammates) is a love story.” Some are dysfunctional love stories, but to Backman, a first friend is one’s first love story. He explains, “I write about friendships like they are love stories.”
While Backman claims that “it takes people a while to warm up to me,” the same is not true of his books. The first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence all clearly illustrate the beauty of Backman’s prose and the strength of his ideas.
Because of the complexity of his stories and his characters, Backman’s books are a gold mine for book clubs everywhere. Find a local book signing. For “Beartown,” he commissioned a local artist to create a special stamp which is stamped on the page he signs. It’s special, indeed, as is Fredrik Backman.